We are continually in judgement. In our present, we use opinions that are based on our past to determine actions that create our future. We embody our opinions and they become the mould from which our responses (actions) are created. Our opinions therefore shape how we take action; that is, they provide the pre-understanding from which we observe, behave and communicate.
When I was at the height of self-doubt, I lived many self-judgements as truth, such as “I can’t do this”, “I am not good enough”, “I am hopeless at my job”, “I should never have taken this job”, “I am not worthy” and many more. These judgements were shaping almost every action that I took in life. Additionally, I was living other people’s assessments of me (imagined or otherwise) as truth. I felt like a failure.
This leads us to the coaching conversation that, I believe, laid a solid foundation for my transformation from self-doubt. It also leads to a couple of linguistic distinctions that I hold very dear to my heart – assessments and assertions. My opinion is that my move from self doubt would not have been possible without my learning of these little pearls of wisdom.
In language, there are statements that can be evaluated as true or false, and this is the case because there is a set of community standards that we can use to complete an evaluation of those statements. Examples are:
- I am 163cm tall – there is a standard that we can use to determine whether the statement is true or false.
- This is a table – there is an agreed understanding of what is a table and this can be used to determine whether the statement is true or false.
- Person B was 10 minutes late to the team meeting – with the use of time and meeting minutes, we can establish whether this is true or false.
Statements that can be evaluated as true or false are known as assertions. We can say that they describe what is already in the world, because they are telling us about something that already exists:
- I was already 163cm tall (or not, in the case of a false assertion) before the statement was made.
- The object that we are looking at was already a table (or not) before we said it was a table.
- Person B was already 10 minutes late to the team meeting
(or not) before we said that they were late.
So that’s assertions. There are other statements that we make that cannot be confirmed as true or false, and these statements are called assessments. Examples of assessments are:
- I am tall – what is tall? To a young child, I may be considered tall at 163cm. To my 185cm work colleague, I may be considered short. Who is right and who is wrong? The answer is that neither individual is right or wrong, because there is no standard that can be used to evaluate “tall”.
- Person X is useless – what is useless? I may find Person X amazing. Someone else may not. There is no standard for useless. It might well be that 20 people in an organisation will say that Person X is useless, or 20 people saying that Person X is amazing. Or both. Regardless, the statement is still an assessment. We can say that we have some evidence to support either statement and we can’t say that they are true, because we cannot measure “amazing” or “useless”.
When we use assessments, we are moving forward with a reality based on what we have interpreted, and I would like to look at that more closely by referring back to some examples that we used previously:
- If I said that Person X was useless, then I have used observations about Person X from the past to create the future reality that is going to be my interactions with Person X. Similarly, if someone else has used their past experience to assess Person X as amazing, their future reality will be based on this assessment. Neither of those realities existed before they occurred in the language of the speakers, neither of the statements can be true or false.
- If a young child said that I was tall and a colleague said that I was short, they have each created their own reality of my height through their past experience of me and my height, and probably other people’s height. For both of them, their future will have them treating me in accordance with their reality. For example – the young child may ask me to get things off the high shelf for them, whereas my colleague may offer to get things off the high shelf for me.
So how did assessments and assertions help me to keep the self- doubt monster at bay? I am glad you asked.
I spent a lot of time saying to myself “I am not good enough”, or “I am not capable”, or “I can’t do this”, and I was living each of these assessments as though they were true assertions. By treating these assessments as true, I had no other possibilities available to me. I couldn’t take action that suggested that I was good enough, because I was living as truth that I wasn’t good enough. Two mutually exclusive viewpoints.
The distinctions of assessments and assertions gave me the possibility of living my opinions and judgements (assessments) as just that. They no longer had to be true. That feeling as the self-imposed pressure rushed out of my body to make room for the influx of possibility was indescribably amazing.
My new knowledge created a curiosity within me, and opened up possibility. When I heard myself saying (mostly inside my head) something negative about myself, I would pause and remind myself that it was an assessment and not a true fact. Then I would ask myself for the evidence. Sometimes, I could find some evidence. Then I would look at why it was evidence and what, if anything, I could do to change the assessment. Most of the time, I couldn’t find a lot of evidence to support my negative assessments, which was learning in itself.
Similarly, when I felt that others had a negative opinion of me, I would remind myself that it was an assessment. I would then pause and ask myself why they might hold that assessment and what the evidence was to support it. This process helped me to understand more about the other person and what may be going on for them. It also made available the following possibilities:
- The possibility of there being no evidence to support their assessment.
- The possibility of accepting that there was evidence to support their assessment, and making a conscious decision to change who I was being in the hope of bringing about a change in their assessment.
- The possibility of accepting their point of view (with or without evidence to support it) and deciding that I didn’t want to make any changes that would contribute to their assessment changing.
Three possibilities to consider, on top of the possibility that I was a failure. What. A. Gift. At the very end of the coaching process, the knowledge of assessments and assertions featured very high on my list of things to be incredibly grateful for. That feeling of going from “Well, the one truth in my life is that I am a failure” to “Wow, which possibility for dealing with these judgements am I going to use today?”
Imagine the potential for an improved knowledge of assessments and assertions within society! How would this knowledge help the child at school who is being bullied, or the child who is perceived as the bully, and who is quite possibly being a bully because they are suffering in some way themselves? And what about leadership? How many leaders treat their interpretations as truth, not always seeking to understand or perhaps see the situation differently? This has the potential to be amazing, in my assessment.
In introducing my learning of assessments and assertions, I am not for a minute suggesting that assessments are evil or bad or wrong. I think they are necessary. The key is, however, to understand how they are serving us. When assessments don’t serve us, we can become limited in the actions that we take and the realities that we create. When assessments do serve us, we have the power to create greatness, if that is what we would like to do.
For me, this coaching conversation created so much for me. It allowed me to see possibilities where I previously saw shame and embarrassment. It also enabled me to see power. It allowed me to see that my interpretations really can create the reality that I am living. In time, I came to realise that, by choosing which assessments to give and not give authority to, my reality was sitting with me; no one else. I liked that feeling.
Something that really amazed me about the use of assessments in our everyday life is that they have the power to make so much available to us, either by serving us or by not serving us. From here, I started to develop a curiosity around assessments used in leadership. I googled assessments made by various leaders, and I compared them. I have shared this below:
Assessments From Person X
Assessments from Person Z
“Fake news is at an all-time high”
“It is moments like these that force us to try harder, and dig deeper, and to discover gifts we never knew we had – to find the greatness that lies within each of us.”
“I have had a beautiful, I’ve had a flawless campaign. You’ll be writing books about this campaign”
“It’s not just enough to change the players. We’ve gotta change the game.”
“I know more about ISIS than the generals do.”
“Prosperity without freedom is just another form of poverty.”
“The point is that you can’t be too greedy”
“We have to acknowledge the progress we made, but understand that we still have a long way to go; that things are better, but still not good enough.”
“I stay out of Manhattan because it’s so disruptive to go to Manhattan, whenever a president came in, it was very disruptive — and I think I’m probably more disruptive than any of them”
“There’s no straight line to progress.”
What do these statements say to you about the leaders who said them? What moods and body can you imagine each of them operating from?
My assessment is that both of these sets of statements create very different realities. There is not a right or wrong to each set; they are simply different. This demonstrates to me the importance of being aware of what we are creating through language. If we asked both of the leaders in this example what they were trying to create when they said these statements, would that align with how they were listened to? Whenever I am struggling to manage my assessments, be it at home, at work, at the shops, or wherever it may be, I tend to think back to this table, and I ask myself what reality I want to be creating and what would help me to achieve that. I find that process very useful.
I have mentioned a few times in this article that assessments cannot be true or false. They can, however, be grounded, which basically means that they can be substantiated or unsubstantiated using the evidence that is available. There is a process and framework around this, which I won’t go into at this stage.
Points to Ponder…
Think of a situation that may not be working as well as you would like.
- Where are you living assessments as truth?
- What actions are you taking from those assessments?
- How is that serving you?
- How could you manage your assessments in a way that other actions might become available?
I am a leadership and life coach, available for coaching and facilitation services. If you feel that it would be useful to have a conversation with me, please feel free to view my services on the Leading and Being website.